Not much was known about Joel Iyiegbuniwe when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in round four. What does the video say that he brings to the table?Who? Everyone across Bears nation looked at their television and asked the same question when the name Joel Iyiegbuniwe was read for the Chicago Bears fourth-round pick. Reach, bad pick, Mel Kiper said he’d go lower! I always find it fascinating that football fans are so willing to side with the opinion of Mel Kiper over their own General Manager. While I respect the opinion of Kiper and Ryan Pace, if the two disagree, I will decide for myself before blindly taking sides. So, what was found on tape, and did he warrant the selection?
Special TeamsFirst, let’s get special teams out of the way. Everyone immediately jumped to the conclusion from the very start that this was a special team move. He is an inside linebacker, we have Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, Chris Tabor must have slammed the table for this kid. This is not the only reason why they drafted him, but it does matter. While it is tough to see without the All-22 angles, it is true that he is likely going to earn a roster spot easily due to his special team’s prowess. Below is what you get from Iyiegbuniwe, who is nicknamed “Iggy” on special teams. First one down the field, swarming and attacking. In position to down punts inside the 20-yard line. So, no, the Chicago Bears did not solely draft a linebacker in the fourth round for his special teams. However, they can sleep comfortably knowing that as a floor, they did draft a player who can immediately help the roster in 2018.
Speed,Power, intelligenceWhen thinking future, Vic Fangio turned on his tape and is likely just as excited as Tabor to get to work with Iggy. The first things that Pace mentioned when it comes to Joel Iyiegbuniwe and what he brings to the field are speed, power, and intelligence.
Pace said that these traits jumped at him when he put on the tape. These are the same three traits that punched me right in the face as well.
IntelligenceLike Roquan Smith, Joel Iyiegbuniwe plays fast because he processes fast. He has a great understanding of angles and with his ability to read and react on the fly, the combination makes him a force to get into the backfield and make plays sideline to sideline and downhill. Below we see third and three. Iyiegbuniwe is lined up at the far right hash. Remember, the hashes are spread apart more in college. Still, a toss left and Iggy is off and running. He uses proper angles to shut off any type of cut back to the inside and closes in with the speed and power to make the stop short of the sticks.
When Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman went down with injuries, the team had a huge issue in the middle. Christian Jones is a fine linebacker but is not the read and react type. He had struggled with being the play caller and without Freeman or Trevathan beside him to keep him in line, he found himself out of place too often. Nick Kwiatoski showed good understanding in his limited time last season. Injuries happen and now to know that they may be able to have four linebackers who can step in and know how to man a show is a big upgrade to the depth of the roster.
SpeedThe reactionary quickness gives him a great ability to get into the backfield as well. When he gets going downhill, he is a missile propelled straight for his target. This is where his strong special team’s presence applies to the defensive side of the ball. Send him downhill with a stunt and a free run at the quarterback. He is going to close that gap quickly.
The Bears have a lot of issues at pass rusher opposite of Leonard Floyd. While they did not address edge high, they took a high upside bet and in the middle, they added Roquan Smith and Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who can make up for some of the pass rushing loss on the edges.
Iggy can also blitz off the edges. He lined up on the edge a lot, but will not be able to survive in that role in the NFL due to his size. He also does not have a pass rush arsenal. He got home with well-timed blitzes up the middle and off the edges, like the one below.
Like the play above, he is always beating blockers to their spot. Watch above again. The slot receiver and the center both have responsibilities to beat Iggy to the spot. He is much faster than them, reacts quicker to the snap and they do not have a chance. Again, the receiver tries to come in for the crack back. Way too slow, Iggy has blown this one up in the backfield.
PowerFor a 230 pound linebacker, he can definitely lay the thump. It helps that he is able to get momentum going so easily downhill and that he moves so fluidly through traffic. Still, there is willpower and determination in the way he finishes tackles. The play below is the perfect example of intelligence to snuff the play out and take the proper angle to the ball, the speed to recognize and attack and the power to finish with purpose.
Shed BlocksStill, as mentioned, his size is going to be one of his bigger detractors. When it comes to taking on blocks, he will definitely have work to do to transition his game to be a quality depth option in the NFL. In the play below, Iggy is lined up on the edge. The tackle gets his hands on him and game over. Iggy eventually rips free but is in a chase down mode by then.
Another play on the edge, but it shows some of the issues that he may have out in space, as he takes on a tight end. The tight end is able to flip his hips and seal the edge for his back. Iyiegbuniwe was unable to get free. Still, it is worth noting that out in space, reading and reacting in the linebacker role he had a better time of getting himself in position to free himself from blocks. A push-pull below gets him free when the guard gets hands on him. And against the pass, he again is able to shed a block in space and position himself perfectly to make a play on the ball. However, there will be the occasional wart. He was completely pancaked as he gets blindsided by the left tackle, 76. He was setting up to evade the center at the second level and was not prepared for what he was in store for.
CoverageLastly, is the question about how he will transition in coverage. A lot of what he did on passing downs was blitzing, whether it be off of the edge or in the middle. When in coverage, he typically just had the responsibility of the flats and curls. Moving out in space, in man was not something he would come into the being comfortable doing.
Who is Joel Iyiegbuniwe?As a floor, he is a special teams stud. As a ceiling, he can read and react as a new age BUCK who can blitz and get downhill with speed, rather than the old school thumper ways. It helps provide versatility. Still, he is not afraid to lay the punch. As a depth linebacker, his intelligence and understanding pre and post snap could be argued as an upgrade over Christian Jones. And, as a specialty pass rusher, he knows how to time blitzes and use his speed to get into the backfield in a hurry, which may help the lack of help on the edges.
So there is a need for Joel Iyiegbuniwe. He provides a year one upgrade, whether it be depth, special teams or situationally getting on the field. In the long term, he has the understanding of angles and reactionary quickness to get on the field for significant snaps. Vic Fangio has a linebacker to build up and the Bears nation may want to be a bit more excited, about the safe and sensible selection of Joel Iyiegbuniwe.